כ״ב בתמוז ה׳תשע״ו (July 28, 2016)

Bava Kamma 58a-b: Damage, in a Larger Context

As we saw on yesterday’s daf, if an animal walked normally into a private area, then the person responsible for it will have to pay for the damage that was done. The Mishna (55b) explains that in this case we will not require payment to be made according to the value of the produce that was destroyed, rather we look at the larger picture – at a full beit se’ah (a field large enough to produce a se’ah worth of grain, which was 2500 square amot) – and determine the loss of value that was incurred. This is a much smaller amount than the actual value of what was eaten or destroyed.

Our Gemara tells the story of a man who cut down a palm tree in his friend’s field. He was brought before the Reish Galuta (the head of the Diaspora Jewish community) who stated that he was familiar with the field and he knew that there were three trees growing from a single spot that were, together, worth 100 zuz. Having destroyed one of them he should pay 33.3 zuzim as restitution. The individual stormed out of the courthouse proclaiming, “Why do I need to deal with the Reish Galuta who rules according to Persian law!” He entered Rav Naḥman’s courthouse where he was told that he would only be required to pay for the loss of value of the tree within the larger context of the field.

Rava rejected Rav Naḥman’s ruling, pointing to the need to distinguish between payment made because of damage done by an animal as opposed to that done by a person. This can be understood by virtue of the fact that a person is responsible for damage done by his animal, but Jewish law feels a need to be lenient with him, since the damage that was done was unintentional and the owner played no direct role in it. This is very different from a situation where a person actively damaged his friend’s property, where the halakha will require full restitution.

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